Thursday, May 27, 2010


...I've put some of my philosophical readings on hold to concentrate on fictional literature. Admittedly, I'm feeling the pangs of withrawal. I absolutely love reading philosophy, social commentary, and religious history. But I also love reading fictional literature. In fact, I think that Christopher Hitchens is entirely right when he notes that philosophical themes, and morality are best meted out in fiction.

So, because I am a nerd, and because I don't want to stray from my healthier habits (philosophy) and immerse myself entirely in fiction (which can be a negative form of escapism for me), I have settled on some philosophical fiction. Specifically, I am going to embark on two modern classics by the wonderfully innovative and insightful philosopher, Ayn Rand.

To begin with, I will tackle the massive story (1070 pages), Atlas Shrugged.

From there, I will read The Fountainhead.

And finally, I will take on a much shorter novel by Rand, Anthem.

This should be quite a trip down Philosophy Lane, while at the same time being a purposeful break from heady academics. At the same time, I'll be learning about Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, and growing in my understanding and appreciation of how other's look at the world around them.

I'll leave you with this penetrating quote from Ms. Rand.

"Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accepts his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some explicable claim upon him - it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin. A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge - he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil - he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor - he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire - he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy - all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was - that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love - he was not man.

Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he's man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man."

Thank you to Atheist Media Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Now off to reading...


justsomename said...

I interpret the knowledge of good and evil to talk about experiential knowledge, not reason...
although I'm sure that she would say that's just as bad

Dr. V said...

Hello Kane,

I'm sure you'll enjoy Ayn Rand's work. She is an excellent writer.

I read Atlas Shrugged and Anthem in 1980. Interestingly, her books spurred me on to study philosophy more seriously (and formally), because I found myself inclined to accept her philosophy not on its own intellectual merits but because I liked the fictional characters!

I think that fiction is a great popularizer of philosophy, but the heavy philosophical lifting still needs to be done. The formal study of philosophy helped me distinguish the philosophical message from the fictional messengers.

Happy reading!

Best regards,

Robert said...

I like this quote from Mark Twain's book, Letters from the Earth:

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and at once a great light streamed into their dim heads. They had acquired knowledge. What knowledge -- useful knowledge? No -- merely knowledge that there was such a thing as good, and such a thing as evil, and how to do evil. they couldn't do it before. Therefore all their acts up to this time had been without stain, without blame, without offense.

But now they could do evil -- and suffer for it; now they had acquired what the Church calls an invaluable possession, the Moral Sense; that sense which differentiates man from the beast and sets him above the beast. Instead of below the beast -- where one would suppose his proper place would be, since he is always foul-minded and guilty and the beast always clean-minded and innocent. It is like valuing a watch that must go wrong, above a watch that can't.

The Church still prizes the Moral Sense as man's noblest asset today, although the Church knows God had a distinctly poor opinion of it and did what he could in his clumsy way to keep his happy Children of the Garden from acquiring it.

LarryG said...

I look forward to hearing what might be found in Rand's books. I have read "Objectivism," but the topic - for obvious reasons - was not well defined, and I myself am not of the desire to read the entirety of her other books just to learn what she alluded to in "Objectivism."

Please post page numbers where the actual philosophy of objectivism might be explained. :)